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Cost of Preschool

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Is it worth it? Expensive preschool

Dec 2013

I am normally a very practical person, but I toured the Berkeley School this morning, fell head over heels in love (I literally got choked up because I felt like I met my preschool soulmate), and am wondering if it's worth the high price and inconvenience of a school that isn't open year round. We would have to take extraordinary measures (ask family for help, not save for retirement, college, take on extra side jobs) to pay tuition for our two kids and we'd only do it for preschool (2-3 years), not their K-8 school.

My question is to parents with older kids who have splurged in the early years - is it worth it? I'm not necessarily asking about this school in particular, but for parents who have taken extraordinary measures to give their preschool aged kids opportunities whether it's a particular school, extracurricular activity, etc. Will I think this is worth it when my kids are in elementary school and research suggests that having attended an incredible preschool won't actually matter? Would my money be better spent saving for college and splurging on some extracurriculars like music, gymnastics, or swim class during these early years? Practically, I don't even know if we can make it happen, but before I go to the effort of trying to figure that out, I would love to hear from parents who are on the other side of this to know if they think it was worth it or if they have ''buyer's remorse''. --- In love with the Berkeley School


I haven't been in your exact situation but I do have older children who have been in great and not so great schools over the years. i'm not sure how many schools you have looked at but if it's not that many my advice to you would be to keep looking and see if you can find something more affordable that still feels right. There are many, many, many great preschools in the East Bay and they are all a little different in terms of schedule, price, etc. I would not go into debt or borrow money for preschool unless you see your income drastically increasing in the years ahead (ie you're in grad school or some other stage of your career with a big increase ahead). You will have many other moments of school decisions in the years to come. I'm thinking about a similar dilemma with my 5th grade student; keep her in an ok middle school or spend money for private...These decisions are difficult! Good luck. the school search continues...
My daughter is now in the 8th grade and doing great in school and socially. I chose her preschool based on three criteria: 1. Walking distance to our house; 2. Had to be full day; 3. Had to be under $600 per month for full day (this was 11 years ago and was on the low side for full day. High side was $1000). That was it. I took as a given that safety and quality would be equal anywhere. I just opened the yellow pages and called around. No waiting list, no competitive parenting. The school was fine, she stayed for 4 years, and still has several friends from preschool who are also all doing well in school. I don't think high cost matters, save your money for family-time adventures and swimming lessons. Local Mom
I'm hearing from your post that you really love this preschool, but you'd have to dip into savings to pay for it. In which case, I'd say, NO, it's definitely not worth it. Really, preschool is about play, learning about friends, gaining social intelligence, etc. You don't need a fancy preschool for that. There was a fancy preschool we loved, but we didn't get in as our daughter was born in fall, and they really wanted the older kids (starting in September, just like school). I'm so glad we didn't get in, as we found a fantastic preschool at about half the cost, which was actually more to our liking. We loved the teachers, the families, the activities.

Preschool is not a huge deal if your child is happy, and you feel comfortable. Fancy is not necessary. There are so many ways that you will be hemorrhaging money over the next 20+ years, and I'd argue that any of the others will be more important: college, high school, middle school, elementary school (not necessarily in that order.. I'd probably say middle school first, high school next, college next). If your budget is comfortable, sure, go for the expensive school since you like it. But since it sounds like it is NOT, don't burn your savings up now. There are plenty of decent preschools around.


Hello--I can really relate that we all get very emotional about decisions about our kids, and that often our feelings can get the best of us. It sounds like you are overcome with emotions that are affecting this decision, and just like any other big life decisions, selecting a school is not something to do on impulse. So my first advice is to take a deep breath and try to put on your ''rational decision'' hat.

With a child in 2nd grade I can safely say that I don't think that investing this much in preschool education will be worth the sacrifice. My child is in with kids who came from lots of different preschool situations, and I really can't say that any one has stood out as being above and beyond the others. There are lots of excellent preschools in the East Bay, and most of them will do just fine to prepare your child for Kindergarten, which is what preschool is for. The most important thing is to find a preschool that matches your children's personality, which is one thing I did not see mentioned in your post.

I definitely think that if you are looking to invest extra money in your children's education, I think that your thought of enriching their schooling with extra-curricular activities, or spending it when they get a little older -- when the education makes a real difference, is the way to go. Good luck in your decision! Elementary School mom


I think you are setting yourself up for both stress and heartache. Stress because it's more than you can afford, and heartache when its time for kindergarten and most of your child's classmates are staying at the school that you can't afford.

I don't know the Berkeley School and I'm sure it's great. But listen--admissions officers (or principals or PTA parents leading tours) are salespeople. Their job is to generate lots of interest in the school and if they are good at it, of course they will have you oohing and aahing and wanting to move heaven and earth to get your kids there. But it doesn't seem worth it to me if it creates more strain on your family. You sound like a great parent and your kids will be just fine at a preschool that is in your budget. anon


No, it's not worth it. The Berkeley School is lovely, but there are so many high quality preschools in Berkeley and surrounding cities that it's hard to go wrong. I've got three kids whose friends and classmates have gone to a variety of preschools -- cheap, expensive, this philosophy, that philosophy. I can't think of a single kid who had any kind of special advantage because of the preschool he/she went to. It's all about play and socialization at this age, and that is what all preschools provide. Do yourself a favor and pick a preschool that is convenient and affordable. Save your money for fun summer programs and classes for your kid, which in a few years *will* be a worthwhile expenditure. And you never know what your child's needs will be in the 2nd grade, or the 5th grade, or high school, so save your money for that!
Late in responding, but is it worth it? Good lord, no! Ask family members to help pay? Take on a second job? That would be ridiculous! My 3 kids attended 3 different preschools (b/c we moved). One was so-so, one was very good, and one was great. But guess what, my kids were happy at all 3, made great friends at all 3, loved their teachers at all 3, learned all they needed to know at all 3. All 3 were affordable, and all 3 were open throughout the summer. There are so many great preschools out there THAT YOU CAN AFFORD, WHERE YOUR CHILDREN WILL THRIVE. Go into debt for college, not preschool
Our 3-yr-old child attends The Berkeley School, and we are very happy with it, and we think our child's teachers are spectacular. For us, it was the right choice, but we can afford it.

With that said, what I want to tell you is that over the course of the fall I've realized that having the perfect preschool has not automatically translated into our child always being happy, making lots of friends, turning into a great friend, making huge academic strides, and so on. Our child has gained a great deal of confidence and independence, but this would have happened at many high quality preschools. The Berkeley School has an awesome curriculum for teaching social emotional learning, cooperative learning, and self control -- but it turns out that parents are excellent teachers for those topics too. I thought our child would learn social skills at school, and this has happened, but I think the coaching we do at home before every playdate has been more important. The teachers are amazing, but our child spends a lot of time working and playing independently while the teachers help other kids (which is good!). Friendships have been lovely, but I'm not sure that we've found the unique best parent community in Berkeley -- I bet the parent communities at other schools are great too.

Some friends of ours almost chose The Berkeley School for their child but then switched to their second-choice school for reasons of schedule and commute. And they don't regret their choice at all.

When parents review schools positively, they sometimes focus on everything they love about their kids' development and then attribute it all to their schools. And schools do deserve a lot of credit -- teachers are amazing human beings who know way more than I ever will about child development. But a school will not make or break your child's development. If the choice is a tradeoff between working more to pay for an expensive school and having more time for parenting while your child attends a good-quality, less expensive school, I'd go for the latter.


I am currently a parent of two kids at the Berkeley School preschool, so I can relate to your feeling of falling head over heels in love with it (I also get choked up every time I enter the classrooms and see what a beautiful, intentional, stimulating environment the teachers have created). The tuition is a real stretch for us but a few factors influenced our decision to put our kids there (0) good fit for our extremely curious, high-energy, articulate kids (1) research shows that neuronal connections in the brain, which influence mood/thinking/behavior, all form at an exponential rate from years 2-5, and slow down to an asymptote after that. So it's a foundational time when a love of learning takes hold... we wanted to foster that time (2) we qualified for financial aid from the school, which made it practically possible (still a stretch, but within the realm of possibility) (3) real diversity in the staff & kids, which was important for our multi-racial family. Caveat: we both come from families of educators and have had a wide range of rather alternative educational experiences throughout our own childhoods, including seven years at a progressive alternate school with mandatory farmwork, no grades and no exams in a remote part of a developing country; running a wilderness therapy program in the US backcountry; semester at sea; extensive world travel; living and working on multiple continents. From those perspectives, most US schools seem to us like prisons (architecture included). We wanted something different for our kids, something that would preserve their sense of joy and wonder. So, I encourage you to think carefully about WHY you want to send them there, and whether you can provide that experience for them in other ways if money proves to be the deal-breaker. poor but joyous

High cost of preschools - am I missing something?

May 2013

Hello, We moved to Berkeley from Colorado about 4 months ago and I've just begun looking for a preschool for my son. He is 3 1/4, but not yet potty trained. The places I've found so far range in price from $1000 per month to $1000 per week! Am I missing something? We're not poor, but we certainly don't have an extra $1000 dollars laying around every month either!

I stay at home for now and we're expecting another baby in November. My husband makes around $200,000. Most of our money goes to rent, car payment, bills, food - we don't live a luxurious lifestyle. Would we qualify for grants or financial aid?!

Are there wonderful schools for less money? I would like small class size, experience-based learning, lots of nature, and socialization. I'm looking at preschools mostly for the socialization - and once baby comes I'm going to need the extra time. I feel like home-based schools are more geared toward daycare and not pre-school and I also prefer a proper school setting.

Please, do you have any advice? Tips? Experiences?

Thank you very much!!


Welcome to Berkeley! Yep, preschool is pricey here (though $1K a week is over the top--you should be able to find many good programs to choose from in the $1500ish per month range for full-time, and less if you only need part-time). The BPN archives have reviews of most of the Berkeley preschools. I would start by sitting down with your budget, though. We are a two-income family that makes far less combined than your husband does, and we pay $2K a month in daycare costs without any real financial hardship (sure, we watch what we spend, but we haven't had to cut back on things like meals out, etc.) Unless you are paying a huge, huge amount in rent or have a lot of debt racked up, adding $1K a month for preschool should be very workable. I would sit down and go through your finances to see where the money is going--even accounting for taxes and retirement savings, you are working with $8-10K a month in take-home pay, which should be more than adequate for a family of four in Berkeley unless something in your budget is way out of line with typical costs here. If it's rent and you have 2-4 years of preschool ahead of you, I'd consider moving into a more modest home for now. (You can find 3BR rentals for under $4K--often well under--in virtually all Berkeley neighborhoods.) If it's debt that's eating up your income, this is the time to get on top of it with a plan of action. Good luck! Another local preschool mama
At an income of $200k for your family no, you certainly will not qualify for financial aide. And no offense, but nor should you. Was that number a typo? You want childcare as a convenience/luxury, not as a need. There are many families making far, far less who actually need full time care so that both parents can work to get by. My husband and I make a little less than that (combined), and feel like we're doing pretty well financially - certainly able to comfortably pay for our childcare costs of $1,300/month. It sounds like you need to take a look at your budget and figure out where the money is going, because at $200k you shouldn't need financial aide for preschool. It also sounds like you don't need a full day program. There are many part-day programs that cost at/under $1k per month. L.
I think if you can find a full-time preschool for $1000/mo you are doing pretty well and I have never heard of one for as much as $1000/wk. When our son was in school and not yet potty trained we paid more like $1200 (at the highest our full time infant/toddler care was $1470/mo about 3-4 years ago). If you will be off work with the baby (I wasn't clear if you work outside the home or not), then you could definitely save $$ with a part time or coop preschool.

While I admit that I do not know what your budget is like, I am shocked that you find $1000/mo too expensive given your husbands salary of $200K. When our son was in preschool our family gross income was about $140K (with two parents working fulltime)and we found the funds. Truly, many cover preschool/childcare on a fraction of your income. You may need to rethink how you spend your money.

Preschool teachers, especially in a non-homebased school setting, are professionals who do amazing and challenging work--you get what you pay for in my opinion. I only looked at schools where the employees mostly had ECE credits, received benefits, and had low staff turnover. Schools like this will run around $1100-$1500/mo for full time with a possible premium for kids not potty trained, extended hours, etc. another mama lucky to afford good care


Preschool programs, 9am-3pm, five days a week, generally cost no more than $1,500 a month. Your husband is more than capable of supporting his family and sending a kid to preschool on a 200k salary (which is considered high, even in the Bay Area). You need to take a deep breath. Do not think of your child's tuition as ''extra dollars laying around.'' It is your primary responsibility as parents to provide your child with an education, and to pay for it. That's what people who make a lot of money do. If your husband's salary is truly not adequate to accomplish this, then you will need to go to work. anon
Many of us with less than 200K/year pay much more than $1000/month for quality daycare/preschool. I can't believe you would think about asking for financial aid with that level of income! Pretty sure you could find the money if this is a priority for you. surprised by this question
Daycare in the bay area is very expensive. $1000 a month is on the very low side. $2000-$2300 would be about the average cost for a non-home abased daycare that provides infant care; $1200-$2000 would be the average cost for a preschooler. Most likely the cost would go up if the child is not potty trained.

$200,000 is still a healthy salary for the bay area. Nobody is going to provide you scholarships or financial aid for preschool. Those scholarships and financial aid is going to go aid the people who need it - the working poor who can't afford daycare and qualify for state aid (which is getting cut) or private aid (which there is not a lot of for preschool). $200,000 income is not poverty level. As a stay at home mom, you would also not qualify because those funds would be reserved for somebody who is going to school or working and need child care in order to work or attending training so they may eventually get a job in the future.

I'd suggest 1) Potty train your son. 3 1/4 is too old to be wearing diapers. 2) Look for preschool classes through the town you live in. Particularly for the summer, there will be part time preschool type development classes through the Emeryville and Oakland recreation department, I don't know about berkeley. Those classes are affordable. Usually it's 2-3 a week for a couple of hours, but it's an option. 3) analyze your expenses, and cut money where you can if you want to afford daycare, or you get a job to afford the daycare. The bay area is expensive, few couples can afford to have 1 person be a stay at home parent, let alone have 1 person make $200,000. 4) If you don't have money, then find moms who want to do a preschool cooperative and have an interest in education and want to work together to socialize their preschool age children.

My husband I both work, and make a decent salary for the bay area, but together we don't even approach $200,000 in income. We own a house, have a mortgage payment, 2 car payments, credit card debt, student loans. We have a 5 year old and I've had her in ECDC in emeryville for the last 5 years. For infant care, I paid about $1500 a year. For Toddler care, I paid about $1400. The price has risen and I now pay about $1300-1400 for preschool (or rather I did, I pulled her out and put her in transitional kindergarten in OUSD, thereby cutting my costs). I'd never dream of asking for a handout at ECDC, because there are far needier parents who are low income.

On $200,000 income you should be able to manage somehow. I've seen too many people making it work on $50,000 a year or $100,000 a year. ishi


Most of the preschools I looked into that are in Berkeley and Oakland cost around $1200-$1800 a month for full time attendance. I am not sure if you are looking for full or part time. I've never heard of a preschool in the bay area that cost $4000 a month which I agree is outrageous. There's a lot of wonderful preschools in Berkeley and Oakland. I recommend reading some reviews on BPN and going on some of the tours to see what fits best for you and your family based on cost, location and your child's needs. Jen
Grants or financial aid!!?? No, it'll be given to people who genuinely need financial aid. Your husband earns more than $16,000 per month and you don't have $1,000 to spend on preschool? You must be able to scrape together the money. My twins will be in kindergarten this fall. I have spent $1,500 per month on childcare since they were 5 months old. And that's PART TIME. I stay home one day and my mom watches them one day. And my take home pay is only $4,000 per month. I don't qualify for a scholarship because I make ''too much''. Somehow I pay for rent, food, clothes, insurance, phone, and other essentials with the other $2,500. I contribute $200 to my 401k per month because that's all I can do. It's taken me 5 years for it to equal one month of your husband's salary. I break even every month and sometimes borrow from my mom when I need to. I always pay her back before I borrow again. And I know there are plenty of people out there who make less money than me. My husband is self employed and I can't even remember the last year that he made a profit so no help with from him. We haven't had a vacation since 2009 and that was just to visit family to show off the twins. I'm sorry if this sounds rude, but I think you are in need of a little perspective. Please don't fill out any financial aid forms, or you will get laughed at (or they will think you are delusional). Anon
I assume you are looking for a half day preschool, since you are staying at home right now. I can't speak to the cost of 1/2 day schools, but $1000 a month would be very reasonable for an all-day preschool. If you can't swing $1000 a month on a $200K salary after rent and car payments, you need to reconsider your rent and your car. And no, you wouldn't qualify for financial aid. CBYAT
I am not sure whether to be offended or sad for your perceived predicament. I cannot even dream of a family income of $200,000 a year, not to mention the absolute luxury of staying home with my child instead of working to support her.

My advice to you vis a vis cheaper pre school? Sell the cars you are making payments on. Move to a cheaper rental. Shop at the farmers market and make all your own food. Don't buy ANYTHING new. Cancel cable, internet, and all classes and memberships that require a fee. Keep your child at home until he is old enough to enter free, public kindergarten. Join a co-op pre school and volunteer as many hours as possible. In short, start living like the rest of us. Also living on one income - $60k and feeling lucky


I couldn't tell from your post whether you are looking for part-time or full-time preschool (ie:how many hours a day and how many days per week). You can definitely find a nice 3-day a week, 9-12 program for far less than $1000 per month. Several friends have loved Gay Austin, for example. I do not think you would qualify for financial aid, and honestly I don't think you should have trouble finding money in your budget for preschool. $200,000 per year is certainly a livable wage, and although you think you are not living extravagantly, just the fact that you can stay home is somewhat of a luxury in these parts. Unless there is some mitigating factor (enormous debt, supporting ailing parents, etc) you should definitely be able to afford preschool. I don't think most of us think we have an extra $1000 a month lying around, but you find ways to prioritize your spending and make it work. Honestly, I think financial aid needs to be reserved for people who cannot afford school/daycare/etc., and at $200,000 a year, there has to be some room to adjust. Again, if there is some mitigating factor, speak with the preschools and they may work something out for you. Some ideas to consider: 1. Part-time programs and 2. Cooperative preschools: there are lots of those with lower costs and really great programs. Good luck, there are lots of great options for preschools and I bet you'll find a great fit. Big fan of preschools
Preschool for around $1000/month is definitely normal around here, and probably on the low end (depending on hours/week), you aren't missing anything. We make less than you, but we have budgeted for childcare - I feel for you if you weren't aware of the expense before making your budget. You might consider whether you can spend less on housing or car, since those are likely your top expenses. People qualify for aid if both parents are working and it still isn't enough to cover childcare, so it sounds like you would not qualify. You could consider working part-time to offset the cost. I wonder if you are currently saving a lot of money? Some of that savings might need to go on hold until after preschool. Good luck! budget, budget, budget
As a point of reference, I am a single mom / only parent, who has to work f/t and earns about 50,000/yr. Even I have had a very hard time receiving any financial aid. It's very hard to find anything less than $1,000/month. Welcome to the Bay Area. Oh, what I could do with 200K

Is my preschool's cost normal and reasonable?

Dec 2008

I currently spend about $300/wk on my child's part-time preschool. If I increase it to 5 days a week, then I will be spending nearly $2000 a month on preschools which is around $23000 a year. Is this normal and reasonable? Should I change my mindset on how much preschool costs? Although I can technically afford it, it just seems so expensive to me and I have a second son who will start preschool in a year.... I like my son's schools, but should I reconsider what schools they go to based on costs for both of them? Feeling the Pinch!


OUCH!!!! We've put 3 kids through preschool and if we had to pay what you are for part-time preschool, I'd have lost my mind years ago! I am assuming this is for part-time, meaning not daily, but all day when your child goes? We had a really great preschool in Pleasant Hill that we paid $300/month for 3 mornings (8:45-11:45am). I cannot imagine that what you are paying is the norm, and there are many really good programs out there. Much as a good preschool was important to us, it's not rocket science! Good luck --
Hi. Yes, $2K is not atypical for a full time preschool for one child in the Bay Area. Do I think it's reasonable.. it depends on the family. For us, absolutely not, so I used savvysource.com and a spreadsheet to find the preschools that were within our (much lower) pricepoint. I pay $1170/month, for 3 days a week, for two kids. So about exactly half what you are paying. You'll have to look at your finances, maybe cast a wider net geographically or be flexible in other areas (you might not find that perfect school that provides all organic hot lunches and bilingual lessons, for example, on a budget!). On the other hand since you already have one son in the school, your second is probably guaranteed a spot so that's worth a lot in peace of mind. I've known families that pay less than you do and those that pay more (sometimes adding a nanny on top of preschool!) - so it's all about your family's priorities and ability to pay. - practical mom of 2 preschoolers

Additional fees charged by some preschools

Oct 2004

Recentely I attended some preschools' open house and was kind of shocked by some of the costs/fees charged by some schools. I would really appreciate your input/opinion/ on this based on your experince. For instance:

Step One - No question it is a very good preschool. But on top of its very expensive tuition, the school charges $90/year Capital Fund Fee, Earthquake Fee $75/year, Materials Fee $90 (AND MORE if your kids are there also afternoon to 3:30 and 5:30 pm RESPECTIVELY!!). Sorry but I personally found this pretty unreasonable and thus annoying or hard to accept. And my friend (she is an experienced parent in selecting schools etc.) in San Bruno echoes my view.

Berkeley Montessor School - charges $800 enrollment fee for pre-K. And not only you don't get a discount if you pay tuition for the whole year (which is offered by a lot schools as I learned), you will be charged a financial fee if you pay tuition monthly!!! Policies like that just kill all my desire to look further into the school.

Being so new in this field, I would love to hear all your experinced opinions on these sensitve issues concerning costs. Thanks very much in advance. new mom


My co-op preschool has all sorts of "hidden" fees that are not included in the tuition. There is a yearly $100 "Earthquake Fee" and there is a $100 fee is you don't buy scrip. There is a fee if you don't contribute something to the yearly auction, and of course you are charged for not doing your weekly participation or your yearly maintenance obligation. There is a building fund fee and there is a materials fee. Of course, the school only runs till 12:30, so if you need longer than that, there is the additional expense of afternoon childcare. You'd think that a co-op would be cheaper than a non-co-op school but after all the fees, it comes pretty close to a regular preschool! It's a good idea to ask about extra fees when you are looking at preschools, because many, if not most, have them, and inlcuding them will give you a more realistic picture of your preschool costs.
The preschools I investigated did not seem to charge such fees. There was a basic rate for full time (which was definitely different than morning-only), and then additional charges for extra classes (e.g. if the child elected to attend optional gymnastics/art/music classes). However, these preschools were also quite expensive, in the $900 - $1000 per month range. So they might in effect be rolling those extra charges into the monthly rate. I think I might calculate the total cost per month and just compare that. Karen
I wanted to write in response to the fees charged by Berkeley Montessori School. Both of my sons are at the school, and I know it is awfully expensive, especially the preschool program. But you really get your money's worth! The preschool is a fantastic program that gives children a huge head start in many ways, and by coming to the school at this age, you get in at the ground level at a great school that you can stay with right through middle school. The teachers are so dedicated and caring with the children, and the classroom environments are so rich! The $800 fee is a capitalization fee, and it is there because families already at the school paid, through donations and tuition, for the retrofit of the preschool and new ecologically-green elementary school campus. Since new families enjoy the fruits of those labors, the idea is that they share some of the burden by paying this one-time fee. I know it is difficult for families to pay these big fees, but providing such nice resources is terribly expensive in the Bay Area, and this is one way the school is trying to shoulder those costs. In terms of whether you're paying monthly or all at once, you can look at it either way, depending on how you want to spin it. You can consider it a discount if you pay all at once, or you can consider it an extra fee if you pay monthly. It would be better, in my opinion, if the school spinned it as a discount if you pay all at once, but in the end, the effect is the same. The school is not in this to make money-- BMS is a non-profit school. Our family struggles to pay tuition at BMS. But we consider it such a great program for our children that we've tried to look beyond the price to see what the school really has to offer. Sima
re step one's rates - definitely this is an expensive preschool. but I think it's important to keep in mind that it is a non-profit, so even though the costs might seem unreasonable, they are high because that's what they feel they need in order to maintain the high quality of the school. for example, step one offers their teachers good pay and good benefits. they take this very seriously, and because of this they are able to retain good teachers for many many years. I think this makes a huge difference. that said, if the cost is so high that it 'annoys' you, then of course you should try to find a cheaper school. a step one believer
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